The wonders of conbini drinks

In Japan, convenience stores are called コンビニ、or conbini’s. And unlike convenience stores you find in the States – ie, dingy 7-11’s with a questionable selection of hot dogs on display or the off-name liquor stores you you might see at the corner of an intersection – these conbini’s are always impeccably clean, well-organized, and literally, convenient. They’re fully stocked with every kind of product you can think of, from perfectly hard-boiled eggs, pre-cooked edamame, and vacuum-sealed chicken breasts ready to be sliced up and tossed over a salad, to kitchen and cleaning supplies, to bathroom products and toiletries, you name it. There are even individually packaged white cotton t-shirts for the ever-sweaty salary man.

But, although I am a big fan of hard-boiled eggs that I didn’t have to cook myself, I’d have to say that my favorite thing about conbinis are the drinks.



True, drinks definitely don’t sound as fascinating as the packets of pre-cooked Thai curry in the ready-made-foods aisle, or the essential oils and incense sticks on display next to the ties, but the thing I love about conbini drinks is just how many options there are!


Walk into any store and you’ll find walls stocked with sodas, teas, juices, drinkable yogurts, even fresh-pressed juices. Every conbini usually has the same selection of brands, but I’ve stumbled upon a few that have limited edition drinks too, and one chain even has their own line of much cheaper, store-brand drinks.


By far the most extensive selection is the coffee (though tea comes in close second). There are about a thousand different types of coffee drinks – coffee mixed with half and half, coffee with milk, coffee with milk and sugar, coffee with milk and no sugar, and so on. And of course, there are tons of classic black options too. I can’t say that it compares to the freshly brewed stuff you get at sit-down cafe’s, but for 118 yen each, I’d say they taste pretty good.


And as if walls of canned coffee aren’t enough, there’s also a separate refrigerated section where you can find an even greater selection of lattes, along with lots of different flavored teas, milk-based drinks, and smoothies too.


Yup, even Starbucks coffee and tea lattes have made their way onto conbini shelves. (The Matcha latte isn’t anything special though – way too milky!)


Every time I stop by a conbini, I make an effort to buy a new drink each time. My goal is to try every single type of drink available! (Well, all except for the carton of straight wheat grass powder.) Considering just how many drinks there are, it looks like I have a long way to go.


Good thing I have all year.


The Tengu Festival: where child abuse is welcomed

Picture a rainy Saturday morning. I’ve just finished getting ready – I washed my dishes after breakfast and started a load of laundry. I’m planning on making a quick trip to Daiso to pick up a few cleaning supplies, like wipes and fabric softener. I have clean the bathroom, buy groceries for the week, and finish up a blog post on my to-do list: your classic, uneventful Saturday. But, as has been a recurring theme for my weekends in Japan, it ended up being the very opposite.

The moment I stepped outside, I came face to face with who I immediately thought to be a member of the Japanese mafia…

He was wearing a long, black robe and, to my horror, a mask – a bright red mask, with menacing eyebrows and an absurdly long nose. A little farther, in the middle of the street, stood a group of three other people dressed in the same black robes and horrid, nightmare-inducing masks.

All I could do was stand, stiff with fear, hoping this masked stranger was not actually a member of a terrorist group, or a hired assassin, or an FBI agent who’d come to arrest me for illegally throwing my trash out at convenience stores… But luckily for me, he was none of those. He simply offered me a nod and then meandered toward the other masked men, who I realized – now that I’d finished overreacting – were laughing and cracking jokes with each other.

Later that day, I eventually learned that the people I’d run into were dressed up for a festival that was happening that night in Minoh called the Tengu Festival, held in honor of Japanese spirits known as tengu.


If you aren’t familiar with what a tengu is, (I definitely wasn’t) here’s an excerpt from its Wikipedia article:

Tengu (天狗, “heavenly dog”) are a type of legendary creature found in Japanese folk religion and are also considered a type of Shinto god (kami) or yōkai (supernatural beings). Although they take their name from a dog-like Chinese demon (Tiangou), the tengu were originally thought to take the forms of birds of prey, and they are traditionally depicted with both human and avian characteristics. The earliest tengu were pictured with beaks, but this feature has often been humanized as an unnaturally long nose, which today is widely considered the tengus defining characteristic in the popular imagination. Buddhism long held that the tengu were disruptive demons and harbingers of war. Their image gradually softened, however, into one of protective, if still dangerous, spirits of the mountains and forests. Tengu are associated with the ascetic practice of Shugendō, and they are usually depicted in the garb of its followers, the yamabushi.

I read online that Tengu Festivals are widespread throughout Japan in the fall. Most festivals typically include a parade featuring impressive statues, as well as Japan’s classic festival street food. Minoh’s annual festival, though, is actually a little different – when the sun starts to set, men dressed up like tengu gather at a specific marked location. And once the locals have arrived at the same place, these tengu start hitting people! Yes, I’m serious. They run around hitting everyone.

They carry these bamboo sticks with tapered ends and hit anyone they can find on the head – usually, children. Apparently, if a child is hit on the head by a tengu, that child receives lifelong blessings. And women receive good fortune too – supposedly getting tapped by a tengu blesses them with fertility and successful kids.

Of course, I was super fascinated, and a bit horrified, by the thought of kids getting struck by middle-aged men, so at around 5pm that evening I found my way to the location where the tengu were expected to gather. It wasn’t hard – all I had to do was follow the sound of high-pitched screams.


I arrived at the gate, and proceeded to watch one of the strangest events I have ever seen in my entire life.


Exactly as the internet warned, men dressed up in tengu attire started running up and down the street and attacking people of all ages – from toddler to teens to middle aged women – while onlookers simply pointed and laughed and recorded videos on their phones. I too, took lots and lots of videos, which I plan to keep forever in case I’m ever in need of a laugh. (Sadly, I’m not able to upload the videos to the post, but shoot me an email and I’ll send you some!)

The festival was mainly intended for the kids, since they’re supposed to receive the bulk of the blessings, but the most memorable part of the festival was watching the parents, who were either taking pictures of their sobbing children or pushing them, literally pushing them, into the tengu’s path!


Though some children were running from the masked men in terror, other, braver, children walked right up to the tengu, asking – begging even – to be hit on the head. And the tengu were happy to oblige.



I ended up getting hit by a tengu too! It didn’t hurt at all, like I thought it would. But I’m pretty sure that he was going easy on me… I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the other tengu targets woke up the next morning with bruises on their heads.


The festival was short, but it’s become one of my favorite memories in Japan! Not only do I have a new story to tell, but I also have a long line of successful children to look forward to, thanks to a masked stranger and his magical bamboo wand.

The freshest ice cream you can find in Osaka

I am a big fan of ice cream.

I mean, who isn’t, right? And that’s why there are tons of articles on where to find the best ice cream in Osaka – from the creamiest, the healthiest (whatever that means), even the tallest – because everyone in the area wants to know where to find the best scoop or swirl of frozen sweetened cream the region has to offer.

As I scanned lists of the most frequented ice cream shops, I noticed that every single one included a place called ‘Shiroichi.’ So of course, I had to see for myself why this one shop in particular always happened to be featured without fail.

This past weekend, I found an opportunity to take the 45 minute commute out to Shiroichi in Shinsaibashi, a neighborhood in Osaka popular with locals and foreigners alike. Arriving in Shinsaibashi, my friend and I walked along a main street lined with high-end brand name stores, and then meandered through several alleys of pubs and European-themed cafes before arriving at Shiroichi’s front entrance.

I was surprised at how tiny the shop itself is; there’s barely enough room for more than a few people to stand inside. I was glad to have arrived late, since anymore than 5 people waiting to order at a time would’ve led to a line overflowing outside.

Like the size of the shop, the menu is also small. There’s only one type of ice cream – 生アイス, or ‘fresh ice cream’ in English. I don’t even think it has a flavor. You can order a simple serving in cup or a cone for 420 Yen. Though the ice cream is good enough on its own without the help of toppings, there are also several options on the menu that include added ingredients, like coffee, milk, and soybean powder. My friend ordered 珈琲(加糖), or sweetened coffee in English – which is a serving of ice cream with iced cold brew poured over the top.

I had trouble deciding on what to pick for a while, but I ended up opting for the 黒蜜抹茶 (kuromitsu matcha), which came with Matcha powder, a scoop of sweet red bean paste, mochi rice balls, pumpkin seeds, and a drizzle of brown sugar syrup (kuromitsu) over the top. It totaled out to be 680 Yen.


After my first bite, I could tell why Shiroichi receives such impressive ratings and reviews. According to its website, the store uses only wholesome, all-natural organic ingredients for both its ice cream and its added toppings. And I don’t doubt it – I could really taste the difference in flavor, texture, and quality. Rather than using cream and additives, the shop instead uses nonhomogenized milk with a high milkfat content, which gives the ice cream a much lighter and delicate texture. It wasn’t excessively creamy, and wasn’t too sweet either. All of the components were perfectly balanced, which made for a refreshing, and memorable, treat. 680 Yen is a lot for a serving of ice cream, but I’d say it was well worth the price.

There’s also a Shiroichi in Shibuya, Tokyo, which is a bit farther from me. (By about 7 hours.) But for those who happen to find themselves in Tokyo, I highly recommend stopping by the Shibuya location for a life-changing swirl of the freshest ice cream you’ll ever taste. Though, be warned – you may never be able to go back to generic, store-bought ice cream again.



The dryer dilemma

IMG_7438Yup, that’s a picture of my wet clothes. They’re clipped to a 100 Yen rack that’s hanging from the curtain rod in my room.


Though I do have a washing machine in my apartment, I don’t have a dryer, so I have to hang up my clothes after I wash them. And according to my fellow apartment-dwelling friends in Japan, they don’t have dryers either. There’s just not enough room in our tiny, 16m2 homes.

At first, I assumed the lack of dryers resulted from a lack of apartment space. But then after a few days of walking around the city, I started to notice that houses (and big houses!) too had clothes hanging from their balconies. So it couldn’t be attributed to space alone.

It’s not just Minoh that happens to be a dryer-less community either – walk around any neighborhood, anywhere in Japan, and you’ll find apartment after apartment, house after house, even some shops and restaurants, with clothes hung over the rails and clipped to standing hangers in the yard.

Japan just doesn’t do dryers. Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea.

Not having a dryer has been a difficult thing to get used to. It’s actually been one of the things I’ve struggled with the most in getting acclimated to living in Japan. First, I don’t like the idea of putting my clothes outside. It kind of freaks me out. There are bugs outside! What if a cockroach or a beetle or a SPIDER wandered onto my balcony and found its way into one of my socks and then laid a bunch of eggs inside without me knowing? What if it starts to rain out of nowhere?? Then I’d have to wash my clothes all over again… And I’m not taking that risk! So instead I have to hang up my clothes inside my apartment, on the curtain rod beside my bed.

Another big reason why I’m not a fan of this dryer-less lifestyle is that my clothes get super duper wrinkly when they air dry – especially my cotton T-shirts. Which is hard, because my entire wardrobe is largely made up of cotton T-shirts. I’ve been trying to flatten them out before hanging them on the rack, but it hasn’t been too effective. Technically, I could iron my clothes after they’ve dried, but so far I’ve been too cheap (and too lazy) to buy myself a proper iron and ironing board.

And lastly, hanging up every single article of clothing on my rickety drying rack has not been that enjoyable (socks are the worst!). I’ve heard that hanging clothes is supposed to be soothing, but to me it just feels tedious; I’m used to taking all of my wet clothes out of the washing machine and throwing them into the dryer in less than a minute, and then coming back to a lovely pile of warm, clean, freshly laundered clothes half an hour later. But now living in Japan, I have to wait a good 12+ hours before my clothes are dry enough to take down from the rack and hang back up in my closet.

But hey, I suppose it’s better than nothing, right? My clothes may be wrinkly, but at least they’re clean… Granted, using a washer alone may take some getting used to – and I’ll probably feel the need to write another complain-y post about the subject again soon – but I’m sure that in time, I might even learn to prefer drying my clothes the all-natural way.


Emphasis on the might.